ACU researcher to map 'runner's high

Thursday, 5 March 2015

3 June 2008: Australian Catholic University (ACU) School of Exercise Science lecturer and researcher Justin Kemp has launched a research project which aims to develop an audio-visual representation of the brain during physical activity. Mr Kemp will reveal his early research at the Alfred Deakin Lecture series this week in Melbourne.

“Running Man” will showcase the effects of physical endurance on the brain’s inner workings, attempting to show a scientific basis for feelings such as “runner’s high”. The multi-disciplinary performance will include X-rays, video recordings of medical procedures, interviews and some running.

"In this research, scientific tools will be used to map activity in the brain and then we'll take that information to create a theoretical landscape of what may be going through the mind at that time," said Mr Kemp.  He emphasised that this new research opens the door to a previously unexplored and somewhat controversial field.  

"Some studies have found increases in total brain activity during exercise, yet others have found decreases," said Mr Kemp. "What is important, yet  not well known, are the changes occurring in the different locations of the brain."

In order to get an accurate image of the brain, the exercising subject will wear a headpiece with electrodes and leads attached to a computer. Mr Kemp will then use EEG (electroencephalography) to measure the frequency of alpha, beta and theta brainwaves.

"Alpha brainwaves are linked to physical relaxation and emotional tranquility; beta activity is linked to thinking, and theta to deep levels of relaxation."

Mr Kemp added that the trance-like, meditative state that people report during endurance activities may be the result of decreased activity in the frontal area of the brain, which is involved in organisation, planning and strategy.

"We might expect greater activity in other areas, but at this stage we're not sure, because little research has been done and our research is still at the embryonic stage," he said.

There is, however, evidence that endurance exercise helps alleviate depression.

"Exercise gives you a break from problem solving and the overloaded thinking of daily life, and we hope to explore whether endurance work  decreases activity in those areas of the brain."

For details on the Alfred Deakin Lecture, please visit:
Australian Catholic University (ACU) established as Australia’s only Catholic, national, publicly funded university is open to all. The University empowers its students and staff with a strong sense of social responsibility and concern for the moral and ethical dimensions of their study and their professional and personal lives.